Five and a half reviews of six parts of seven books

Last week I went away for some late Summer sun – our first holiday abroad with a little ‘un. It was a fantastic time, during which we made some great memories and enjoyed a week of swimming, eating, relaxing and laughing.

Before I went, a few parents told me to prepare myself for my holiday reading taking a hit. Having a baby to look after would likely result in me only getting through one book the whole time. So I braced myself and took a limited selection… which was a mistake! I actually found that during whole stretches when the baby girl was asleep – during the day, or in the evenings – I arguably had more time to read than I had on previous holidays. And fewer books packed.

So I ended up reading a selection of books I’d taken, books Helen had brought, and random things I found on her kindle. Here are some brief reviews – see if you can guess which book was chosen by whom!

Keith Ward – The Evidence for God

I was really looking forward to this – a short little book showing how six areas of human experience (the arts, morality, philosophy, science, religion and personal experience) offer evidence of a spiritual dimension.

To be honest, I was disappointed. I found it a frustrating book, full of sweeping statements, few cited sources, and a good deal of repetition. It felt less like a rigorous and well-planned book and more like a seasoned lecturer rambling impromptu on thoughts he’d rehearsed ten-thousand times. The first few chapters sounded speculative and fairly insubstantial, and it wasn’t until the halfway point that I found it really got going.

To be sure, there were some strong chapters, and I will definitely revisit the material on Philosophical Idealism (ch6), explaining the universe (ch8), rationality (ch14) and reason (ch15). And it’s certainly given me food for thought about what kind of ‘evidence’ one might hope to find in the case of God and how to differentiate between different types of knowledge. But it wasn’t the book I thought it was going to be, and was a poor substitute for Keller’s Making Sense of God, which arrived in the post the day after I left!

Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft – Everyday Supernatural

This was a great book on various aspects of what it looks like to live a supernatural life, every day. If you’ve ever heard Andy or Mike speak on these themes then both the style and content will be familiar to you. It’s engagingly written, humorous, self-deprecating, peppered with stories, and most importantly makes a Spirit-led life feel totally achievable for even the most ‘normal’ of people.

I’ve read many books on each of the topics covered in Everyday Supernatural – healing, receiving the spirit, hearing God’s voice, etc. – but I think this may become my new go-to recommendation when people want a good introductory ‘manual’ that introduces all the themes in one go.

Ian McEwan – First Love, Last Rites

Meh… I love short stories, but this was not for me. Not at this particular time at least. I got through three of the eight stories and couldn’t handle the bleakness. The combination of being on holiday, having a newborn child over whom I feel very protective, and having just received some devastating news meant I wasn’t in the mood for tales from McEwan’s dark and twisted mind. So after enduring stories about murder, marital strife and sibling incest, I closed the book and doubt I’ll re-open it.

Robert Galbraith – Career of Evil

By contrast… despite the macabre title and subject matter, I enjoyed Career of Evil. This is the third novel written by J.K. Rowling under her pen name Robert Galbraith, and despite having not read either of the first two, I really enjoyed this well-written, pacy murder mystery.

I loved the fact it was largely set in London, and in areas I’m very familiar with. The streets and buildings were described so vividly that I could imagine them with real clarity. I do enjoy reading books where I know I’ve walked down the roads and drunk in the pubs – it helps them come to life.

I also loved the fact that although there are many chapters in the voice of the murderer, you’re kept guessing right until the end as to his identity. S/he sustained the mystery really well.

(Apropos of nothing, the lead character Cormoran Strike eats more than his fair share of fried food. He ordered fish and chips from 3 or 4 pubs, and also had a bag of chips in Catford. Just saying. He needs to be careful.)

G.K. Chesterton – The Man Who Knew Too Much

Back to the short stories… and these were far more to my liking. I love Chesterton, and these little murder mysteries were light and intriguing. I personally found Horne Fisher a little smug, and not as complex a character as the eponymous protagonist of the Father Brown mysteries. But still – the stories were clever and fun.

Of course, there’s always a fair amount of disbelief that needs suspending when you read story after story back to back in which a wannabe sleuth happens to arrive on the scene of a random crime and sees in seconds what trained police miss. Every time. Without fail. But that’s just par for the course with a collection like this. Recommended!

Richard Beck – Reviving Old Scratch

A book whose subtitle ‘demons and the devil for doubters and the disenchanted’ may not seem like natural holiday reading. And indeed, the alliteration alone may be enough to put people off, whatever time of year it happens to be. But this was a really interesting book on the nature of evil, and whether it makes sense to speak about the devil in our postmodern world.

I’m still processing this. Lots to think about. No doubt I’ll review it in more depth very soon.

John le Carré – A Delicate Truth

This was my first le Carré, and I also only read half of it. But unlike with McEwan, my reason was not taste, but that I simply ran out of time… so I shall finish it now I’m back on British soil. But in short – I’m enjoying it so far!

Image: Holiday Reading by crisowenrichards, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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